T he ‘CHINA / 5000 YEARS’ auction on 30th November showcases a diverse range of Chinese works of art including imperial porcelain, jade, lacquer and furniture. The sale features several private collections, including early ceramics and jades from the collection of Quincy Chuang, the second installment of early ceramic pillows from the Dream Quest collection, and huanghuali furniture from old Hong Kong family collection. Other highlights include a pair of Daoguang seal mark and period coral-ground famille-rose 'peony' bowls, a Qianlong blue and white yuhuchunping vase, and a Qianlong period cinnabar lacquer ‘dragon’ box and cover.
Featured Highlights 精選拍品
Tang Silver: A New Wealth 銀光顯貴
The diversity of the Chinese works of art in the Tang dynasty embodies the cosmopolitanism of the period, and there no better reflection of this than in the development of precious metalworking. The use of silver was highly unusual in vessels or functional objects before the 5th century – only rarely hammered in fragments as inlay on bronzes during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Significant advances were made when metalwork techniques were introduced into China in the 5th and 6th centuries from Central and Western Asia, as well as the Mediterranean through well-established mercantile contact and cultural exchange. As a result, China developed a taste for silver, synthesizing the abundant foreign styles and techniques, evolving to a high level of refinement and ultimately reaching its peak in the Tang dynasty. This sense of luxury is reflected in the creation of not only silver vessels, but also jewellery and personal objects of adornment. The following lots showcase the finest examples of silver metalwork of the period. Many of the silver vessels would become the progenitors of later imperial ware, with designs or shapes reinterpreted then transformed in the ceramics of the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Tang imperial court and the aristocracy enjoyed luxury and were not afraid to display it. The period is unparalleled in the baroque opulence of its works of art, which runs through all media. The first half of the Tang was the high time of earthenware pottery, a highly versatile medium, which was never exploited in more ingenious, varied and attractive ways than in this period, when the inventiveness of the potters aimed at taking the medium to its limits. Pottery became richer in colour, mainly through the use of a white slip over the dull beige clay, which not only brightened up the basic green and brown glaze tones, but also – covered with a transparent glaze – added a near-white glaze colour to the repertoire. That the resulting colour scheme is known as sancai (‘three colours’) obscures the fact that it covers a fairly wide range of tones, from near-white over yellow and amber to brown and from a pale pastel-green to a deep leaf green. Sancai proved such a successful colour scheme that it became a staple for Chinese ceramics and remained popular long after many additional glaze colours had become available.
A sancai 'phoenix' ewer, Tang dynasty 唐 三彩鳳首執壺
Animal Spirits 萬物有靈
Animals in Chinese art have long been a way of conveying philosophical and sometimes political meaning in a sophisticated visual language of cultural associations and wordplay.
- Mythical Beast 瑞獸
- Eagle and Bear 鷹、熊
- Butterfly 蝴蝶
- Phoenix 鳳凰
- Qilin 麒麟
- Dragon 龍
- Lion 獅
Mythical Beast 瑞獸Mythical animals had spiritual meanings bound to individual motifs, and they were assigned specific places within in the universe in accord with Chinese cosmology.
Eagle and Bear 鷹、熊The ying eagle and the xiong bear together form the rebus yingxiong, meaning heroic nobility. This is a symbol for courage, and would have made an appropriate gift for one in the military.
Butterfly 蝴蝶The butterfly is considered an auspicious insect associated with blessings and happiness. Its transformation and the possibility of metamorphosis also makes it a symbol of longevity. In a well-known dream, the Taoist philosopher Zhuang Zi became a butterfly and fluttered about without a care, a parable often interpreted as the expression of a happy existence and contentment.
Phoenix 鳳凰The phoenix is revered as a harbinger of peace and prosperity, as well as a symbol of the empress of China. Esteemed for its feminine beauty, the phoenix appeared in Chinese artefacts throughout history and, as suggested by the Chinese saying ‘the dragon soars and the phoenix dances’, was often paired with the dragon, a symbol of the emperor.
Qilin 麒麟This fantastical creature reflects the Chinese sculptural tradition of mythical 'chimera' or 'qilin' and combines the head of a dragon, the horns of a ram, a scaled body of a deer and the hooves of a horse. Also known as the Kirin, the qilin is an auspicious beast with the body of a steed, and the horns and other features of a dragon. Its appearance announces the arrival of a sage or enlightened ruler, and in Taoism, the qilin also punishes the wicked.
Dragon 龍The dragon has been the spiritual identity and symbol of Chinese culture. It is an emperor reigning over all beings, and an emblem of peace and harmony, as well as imperial power. It is said that the first legendary Han emperor, Huang Di, immortalised into a dragon and ascended into heaven. One of the four divine animals, the dragon is ranked first among mythical beasts, associated with the power of bringing rain and abundance.
Lion 獅Lions are not native to China. Although live animals were brought to the Chinese court by foreign embassies, they were always exotic rarities. In India, the lion is intimately associated with Buddhism, considered a symbol of strength and protector of the Dharma, the Buddhist law, and with the growing popularity of the Buddhist religion during the Tang dynasty, pairs of lions were increasingly placed in front of Buddhist temple gates as guardian animals.
Invented in the Tang dynasty, ceramic pillows had became popular and treasured items for elite families by the Song dynasty. The hardness of the ceramic might seem uncomfortable to sleep on, but the cool touch of the material to the back of the neck would have been quite soothing on hot nights. The headrest may also bring some additional health benefits according to late-Ming scholar, Gao Lian, who wrote that the material and the iconography of the headrest serves a critical role in mediating between the conscious and unconscious, as dreams were believed to have significant meaning.
The Dream Quest Collection was assembled since 1990. Beginning with an interest in Cizhou ceramic pillows, the collector gradually expanded his collection to other provincial kilns. A comprehensive collection of over 100 ceramic pillows, spanning from the Tang to the Qing dynasties, of was amassed. The headrests could come in various shapes, techniques, glazes and decoration – typically rectangular or bean-shaped with a gently concave surface. Some examples come in the form of reclining figures. The pillow’s function associates it as an object of the bedroom, so the decoration would often have links to familial, domestic or even erotic themes.